Coleman Hawkins reached a new level of creativity during the 1940s. This box set focuses on those years, presenting the original master of the tenor sax in a wide variety of settings, including his encounters with young modernists like Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. "The BeBop Years" is another supremely crafted set with 88 tracks and a 56 page booklet containing the full Coleman Hawkins story, rare photographs and discography.
There is a slight problem with the title Coleman Hawkins, the Bebop Years
: this long look at Hawkins begins in October 1939, only reaching anything identifiable as the bebop years (Monk's debut on record, as Hawk's sideman, in October 1944) towards the end of disc 3. Looking beyond the vagaries of titling (and the budget price of these proper boxed sets helps
one to look further), this is a well-chosen series of snapshots of a tenor giant moving from his absolute pomp ("Body and Soul", 1939) through years of consistently high achievement (early 40s) into the challenge of bop (on the fourth disc are four tracks of the wonderful 1945 sextet featuring Howard McGhee and Oscar Pettiford, plus the Hawkins all-star session with Miles and Max Roach) and finally back to Europe for a post-war reunion of sorts. Hawkins was fiercely competitive, even with old friends like Webster and Eldridge, so there is no slacking off of effort from the frontman. Additionally, one of the most notable developments traced here is a new and uncluttered rhythmic ease. He chose his phrases more carefully, went for contrast and drama with great precision and became the more telling soloist for it. This is a valuable four-CD document, in good sound. --Keith Shadwick